There is a lake perched high in the Andes mountains along the border of Bolivia and Peru. Its name is Lake Titicaca. Legend has it that if you drink the water there, you will someday return. I don't believe in such things, but, as I walked along the shore in search of a rowboat to reach The Island Of The Sun back in January 1989, I took a moment to cup my hands in the water and drink it in.
What does that say about me?
Four and a half years later, I did return.
I don't know his name, but I lived across the hall from him for two years. He has AIDS, a disease I am quite confident he contracted through drug use. I'm sure he'd tell you he never chose to have AIDS, but he chose to take the steps that led him to it. Is there really a difference?
Police became a common occurrence during the time we were neighbors. One night, someone was hauled out of his apartment by paramedics due to a heroin overdose. Another time, police hauled him away for a few days. They returned him a few days later.
He was not a friendly man, but the friendliness with which he handled these situations told me that such things were simply a part of his life. He seemed just fine with it.
We're not so different - he and I. Both flesh and blood. Both men. Both in our thirties living in the same city. Both seeking happiness in our own ways. I'd bet we both come from screwed up families.
I am also willing to bet that the real difference between he and I comes down to choice. Drugs are his choice - his way of seeking happiness, and at the risk of sounding corny, I'll say that 'life' is mine.
And why not sound just a little bit corny if the corny statement is true? I get high on life, and I really do make an effort to enjoy just how spectacular my life can be. Key words there: how spectacular my life "Can Be." It's entirely up to me to make the effort - it's up to me to live a spectacular life. Sometimes I fail in that regard, but sometimes I succeed in a very big way.
One by one, most people on the floor of our building moved away. The smell of his pot was too strong, the smell of him making meth was too agitating. Strange people coming and going from his place at all hours was too much of a safety risk. Six months ago today, I moved too.
I wonder if he is even aware of how much time has passed? I know he remembers me... he made that quite clear Friday evening when we passed on the street.
There is a lake perched high in the Andes mountains along the border of Bolivia and Peru. Lake Titicaca. Though I didn't drink the water when I returned there in 1993, I know I'll return again one fine day. That is, of course, my choice. Somehow, some day, I will find a way.
I don't believe in fate. I think the outcome of a person's life is based on a mix of chance and choices.
I wonder if the man who was my neighbor has even seen Lake Oswego, let alone Lake Titicaca. I wonder if he'll ever know the chances he's missed due to the choices he's made.